He added that this didn't mean a change in the plan to end all U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of 2014. But his remark added fuel to rumors flying around Washington since last week that he would use the NATO summit in May to move up the deadline date.
It's possible Obama's remark was at least partly intended as a counter-move to President Hamid Karzai's ongoing refusal to budge on two issues that have been holding up signing of the U.S.-Afghanistan strategic partnership agreement, which is crafted to govern the U.S. role in Afghanistan after 2014.
Yet if I were an Afghan who fears a precipitous U.S. exit from Afghanistan would unleash large-scale massacres, I wouldn't pin my hopes on the idea that Obama is just bluffing. Among people who've studied Obama's political career, he is infamous for betraying people, even those people who've been instrumental to his rise in power, and doing so even so for a small political gain.
In fact the slang term for such betrayal -- throwing someone "under the bus" -- gained popularity in the USA because of Obama's ruthlessness with those who least deserve the treatment.
He even threw his own grandmother under the bus by portraying her as someone prejudiced against blacks. He did this to burnish his 'black' credentials with a radio audience of black Americans in Philadelphia. His grandmother, who was still alive at the time if my memory serves, was white. She was the person who took on the responsibility of raising him after his mother abandoned him.
That's our President and Commander-in-Chief, who has all the instincts of a long-lived satrap.
Whether or not he was bluffing, Obama knew his remark about Afghanistan would give additional impetus to calls within his Democratic party base that the USA immediately quit Afghanistan. He'll need every vote he can get from the base if the U.S. economy is still in the doldrums on election day. Throwing Afghanistan under the bus is a negligible price to pay, in Obama's political calculus, if that would help lock in more of his voter base.
Although it would be a small detail to Obama, by hooking up the threat of immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan with the Koran burning incident, he was also putting General John Allen, Commander of ISAF, in a bad position. In the immediate wake of the revenge murders of American soldiers that were ostensibly connected with the Koran burnings, Allen passionately urged the American troops under his command not to retaliate for the murders and to 'stay the course' for the sake of the 50-nation NATO mission in Afghanistan.
Allen's words now ring hollow in light of the rationale Obama proffered for the U.S. to "transition" out of Afghanistan.
Another American politician who's now intimating that the U.S. should quit Afghanistan earlier than agreed is Republican Senator Lindsay Graham. Senator Graham has always been a staunch supporter of the U.S. staying the course in Afghanistan, but he lost his temper with Hamid Karzai over the issue of the stalled strategic pact. Graham is studiously overlooking something, but I'll let him blow off steam before I mention what that something is. From his remarks on March 6, reported by Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin:
If Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai doesn't change his tune fast on two key U.S. demands, the U.S. military should just pack up and go home and leave Afghanistan for good, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said today.The senator is ignoring one singular fact. Over the years Hamid Karzai's most consistent and adamant demand has been the U.S. government recognize that the vast majority of people killing the sons of American mothers and preying on innocent Afghan villagers are doing so with support from Pakistan's military.
Graham, who has been one of the strongest congressional supporters for continuing the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan beyond 2014, said today that unless Karzai relents on his demands that the United States immediately hand over control of Afghan prisoners and end night raids against insurgents, there is no way the U.S. can achieve its objectives in Afghanistan and therefore should just end its involvement there.
"If the president of the country can't understand how irrational it is to expect us to turn over prisoners and if he doesn't understand that the night raids have been the biggest blow to the Taliban ... then there is no hope of winning. None," Graham said in the hallways of the Capitol Building just before entering the GOP caucus lunch.
"So if he insists that all the prisoners have to be turned over by March 9 and that we have to stop night raids, that means we will fail in Afghanistan and that means Lindsey Graham pulls the plug. It means that I no longer believe we can win and we might as well get out of there sooner rather than later."
Graham acknowledged that those two issues were crucial in ongoing negotiations over a U.S.-Afghanistan Status of Forces Agreement, which would provide the legal basis for the ongoing presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond the end of 2014, the deadline President Barack Obama has set for transferring full control of the country back to the Afghans.
"I am going to pull the plug on Afghanistan from a personal point of view if we don't get this strategic partnership signed," Graham said.
"Karzai's insistence that all detainees we have in our custody be turned over by Friday to an Afghan system that will let guys walk right out the door and start killing Americans again is a non-starter."
Graham, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations' State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, visited Kabul and met with Karzai late last month.
Today he said he supports a U.S.-Afghanistan agreement for a post-2014 presence of about 20,000 U.S. troops, with three or four U.S. airbases and coordination in the military, political, and economic spheres.
"But I'm not going to support signing that agreement if Karzai insists that we end night raids, which are the biggest blow available to our forces against the enemy," he said. "If he requires that we end night raids, we'll have no hope of being successful."
Regarding the prisoners, Graham said that any follow-on U.S. force would be put at risk if U.S.-held prisoners, currently numbering over 3,000, were placed under Afghan control.
"I cannot go back home to South Carolina and tell a mother, ‘I'm sorry your son or daughter was killed today by a guy we had in custody but let go for no good reason.' We want Afghan sovereignty over prisoners but they're not there yet," he said.
"That's not good governance. That hurts the Afghan villagers that have been preyed on by these people and it sure as hell puts our people at risk. I want an agreement but not at all costs."
So from Karzai's point of view, what does it accomplish to keep harassing Afghans with night raids and jailing an endless parade of proxies, if NATO won't deal forcefully with the locus of the 'Taliban insurgency' in Afghanistan?
I wouldn't call that point of view irrational. I'd call Lindsey Graham the irrational one for expecting that NATO and Afghan security forces can somehow prevail by emptying the ocean with a sieve.
I'd also call Graham a fool for failing to recognize that American troops are unwittingly helping Pakistan's regime carry out population control, Pakistani-style.
What does he think is happening, when Pakistan's military/ISI train the country's 'undesirables' -- the low castes, the least educated, the mentally ill, the Afghans living in refugee camps -- to set IEDs, then hand them an AK-47 and send them across the border to die by the hundreds of thousands at the hands of NATO troops?
However, here in the United States we have another term for that kind of population control. It's called democide.